Mousetalgia link


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

WDFM - The Evolution of Mickey Mouse

Since I’ve seen a number of threads on various fan forums about a new talking Mickey being testing at Disneyland, I figured it was time to get this piece finished and posted.

In November, the Walt Disney Family Museum welcomed Walt Disney Company Executive Vincent Vedrenne to the Museum to talk about the “Evolution of Mickey Mouse.”

The session opened with Museum Executive Director, Richard Benefield telling us that Mickey Mouse was about to turn 82, and that the first Mickey cartoon showed on November, 18th 1928.  As Richard is telling us just how important Mickey is to the Museum, and about a potential symposium on him (that would be so cool) and how much Mickey has been study during his life, he showed us a copy of Natural History magazine from 1979, with a picture of Mickey on the cover.  The magazine contained an article from, as Richard described him, “rock star” scientist Stephen Jay Gould, discussing Mickey Mouse’s neotenic features.  Where else are you going to be challenged with terms like neotenic or neoteny?  Okay since it was hard to write fast enough to capture Richard’s definition, here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Neoteny (pronounced /niːˈɒtɨniː/), also called juvenilization, is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles (a kind of pedomorphosis), and is a subject studied in the field of developmental biology. In neoteny, the physiological (or somatic) development of an animal or organism is slowed or delayed (fallaciously, seen as a dilation of biological time). Ultimately this process results in the retention, in the adults of a species, of juvenile physical characteristics well into maturity. The English word neoteny is borrowed from the German Neotenie, the latter constructed from the Greek νέος (young) and τείνειν (tend to). The standard adjectival form is "neotenous",[2] although "neotenic" is often used.

Who knew?  Well, I guess Stephen Jay Gould knew, and he made the association with Mickey Mouse.  I really do learn something new every day, and Richard went on to introduce our guest speaker: Vincent Vedrenne is a Walt Disney Company vice president in Corporate Franchise Management, overseeing the business and creative strategy of Disney’s core character franchises; Mickey, Pooh, Princesses, Fairies, and Cars, and responsible for creating consistent business strategies for the promotion of Disney’s most beloved characters.  Vincent has been tasked, by Bob Iger and John Lassiter, to focus on optimizing and protecting, as he puts it, “the world’s most beloved characters.

Vincent opened by telling us that Mickey Mouse was an almost instance success.  His name appearing on movie house billboards in lettering as big as the feature films.  The Disney Brothers Studio received 1000’s of fan letters within the first three week.  And that Mickey Mouse was not just a big hit in the USA, but a worldwide phenomenon.  Mickey is probably one of the most studied animated characters in our culture; academia is still trying to understand his appeal, with no one theory winning out. After watching all 346 cartoon shorts, Vincent has some of his own theories, and broke down the periods in the development of Mickey Mouse.

Our first period of examination Vincent called, Mouse gags – 1928 to 1942 – 87 Shorts were produced.

During this period Mickey was the primary subject of these shorts, with appearance and interaction with Minnie and Pluto.  Two of the shorts mentioned were Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy.  Mickey smoked, drank, and, as Vincent put it, brutalized animals.  These were acceptable activities during this period in our history.  We got to see some of the examples of cartoons from this period.  Vincent explained that Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat” Willie was modeled (as Walt wanted) after Charlie Chaplin, whereas Mickey in “Plane Crazy” was modeled (by Ub Iwerks) after Douglas Fairbanks.  Ultimately Walt’s Charlie Chaplin model won out.

Next we move to the Comic Trio period of 1936 to 1940, where 16 shorts were produced.

Here with so many other Mickey Mouse shorts done, to broaden available subject material and keep the audience engage, Donald Duck and Goofy were created.  Both characters were alter egos of Mickey’s former self, Donald being the tantrum throwing, angry little rascal, and Goofy the personification of ignorant bliss.  To demonstrate this interaction we got to see a clip from 1938’s “Mickey’s Trailer”

In 1939 the studio started making character specific cartoons, and from 1939 to 1953 Mickey got another 14 shorts. During this period Donald became very popular and from 1939 to 1956 he got 135 shorts of his own, with Goofy getting 23 shorts from 1941 to 1953, which Vincent called Goofy’s Lessons and 16 shorts from 1951 to 1953 he called Goofy the Family Man.  Interesting note from the Goofy’s lessons period, we learned that during the production of these shorts, the voice actor (Pinto Colvig from my research) for Goofy had left the studio.  Without the voice for Goofy, Disney decided to use Goofy as the subject of these lessons while using a narrator to explain what was happening.  Finally from 1937 to 1951 we see 55 short produced which Vincent called Pluto’s Misadventures.

We learned that the last Mickey Mouse cartoon was short was made in 1953, and another interesting fact was revealed by Mr. Vedrenne.  The studio stopped regular production of cartoon shorts because the theaters stopped paying for them.  Theater owners and distributors felt that audiences were now coming for the main features and not the shorts, so they discontinued paying for the shorts.  If the studios wanted to include shorts as a bonus feature, that was fine.  Without a revenue source, there was no incentive to produce new shorts.  Disney also released they had a large library which they could begin to recycle.  So with the exception of “The Prince and the Pauper” in 1990 and a “Runaway Brain” in 1995 there has been little Mickey Mouse production in the last 30 years.

Disney (the company) understands the value of Mickey and his friends, hence Mr. Vedrenne’s position at the company, and is looking at how to address the desire from the fans to see more of these characters today.  One of the things they are doing to address this desire, is to repackage the Disney character cartoon in a program called “Have a Laugh” the first two DVD’s have been released (yes, they are already in my collection), and the “Have a Laugh” cartoons have started running in-between popular show on the Disney Channel.   Disney has found that for most viewers today, they lose interest after about three to 4 minute.  So the “Have a Laugh” shorts on the Disney Channel have been edited down to about three minutes.  On the DVD’s both the shortened and original versions of the shorts are included.  It is very cool!

And finally, the reason I decided to finish this one up.  As I opened, there has been a bit of post traffic on several of the fan forums about the new talking Mickey at the Disneyland Park.  They have been testing a new articulated Mickey head which is also able to talk in Mickey’s voice.  We got to see a little 3 minute video of one of the test sessions.  What appeared to be a toddler of about 3 or 4 went rushing up to Mickey as he welcomed him verbally.  The smile from the child was ear-to-ear, but the look on the mother’s face was priceless! 

I think we have a lot to look forward during our future trips to the Parks.

And I’m always anticipating my time at the Museum!

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

An Interest in a Darker Walt, a follow up

The other day I was going through my blog stats and noticed something I thing is curious, and possibly a bit disturbing.  Back in November I published an article;  Walter Elias Disney, the lesser know man  The stats  would seem to indicate this a popular topic for Walt Disney.  This article elicited the first email response from a posting here…  And then, the other day at the mall, I was asked about Walt Disney at an isle way kiosk.  Granted for that last one, I was wearing my Walt Disney Family Museum hat, so a question about Walt Disney shouldn’t be unexpected.  What is unexpected is the common thread through all of this inquiry…

Was Walt Disney a Freemason?

I wrote the article originally because I’d seen enough of the content while doing my web research that was trying to claim that Walt had a real dark side to his personality.  I felt that my claims of be an analyst, and trying to do a thorough look at this iconic figure’s life, I had to address these dark images of the man, and to put some contextual historic information around the activities.  I was quite surprised when I was going over my stats for that last few months, and noticed that this article had garnered as much attention as it has so far.  It was also interesting to see how many search engine hits contain “mason” as part of the search string.  When I received the email comment particularly with it reference to the Masons and Illuminati, I began doing a little more research, and then the unsolicited question in the mall the other day as to whether Walt Disney was a Mason…  Well, I just needed to explore this topic further.

Type “Walt Disney mason” in your search engine of choice.  I use Google, and it returns over 900,000 hits.  Type in “Roy Disney mason” and you a 144,000 links back, but most of those ultimately reference back to Walt.  In doing research on the Mason, I found the following people in entertainment listed as Master Masons;  Arthur Godfrey, Red Skelton, Ernest Borgnine, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Will Rogers, Danny Thomas, Burl Ives.  Why would Walt Disney not want to be included on that list, if he were in fact a Master Mason, or even a Mason of lower rank?

I will say again, I’ve seen no evidence to proclaim with certainty that Walt Disney was a Freemason, Master or otherwise.  All of the so called proof is nothing more than circumstantial at best.  Let see, Club 33 and the address for Disneyland being 1313.  Well Club 33 wasn’t even named until after Walt Disney’s death, you’d think, if that was a name that Walt had chosen, there’d be evidence to that effective.  None has been offered to my knowledge.  I’ve seen nothing indicating it was Walt himself who chose the DLR address.  It could have been a suggestion by an employee, either of Walt’s or the county or city.  Yes the numbers 11, 13, and 33 hold significance to Masons, along with just about anyone who is into numerology.  Just drawing the conclusion that Walt was a Freemason because of numerology doesn’t meet accepted standard, at least in my opinion.  So, we’ll chalk that one up to circumstantial.

The only other piece of evidence, which I have personally seen, is a DeMolay membership card from the 20’s.  Then as supporting documentation as to Roy O’s once being a Mason.  It’s interesting that the only reference I can find to Roy O’s membership is his own claim in Bob Thomas book “Building a Company.”  With all the internet content about Walt’s association, I’d think one would be able to find more about Roy, not so much…  Now, I know that in my earlier post that I said it is reasonable to conclude that Walt Disney could have been a Mason based on these facts, but now that I think more about it, I believe it is more probable that Walt Disney was not a Freemason. 

So, why am now changing my opinion?

It has been more than 40 years since Walt Disney passed away, and the only hard piece of proof that has surfaced is a DeMolay card.  Since the DeMolay card is on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum, and many of the artifacts on display at the Museum have come from Diane Disney Miller’s personal collection of her Father’s possessions, I would think there would be some other Masonic artifact on display.  Surely, if Walt was a Mason, Diane would display some Masonic artifact to go along with the DeMolay card, unless you subscribe to the same principles as most conspiracy theorist, that any connection is good enough and multiple connections, no matter how weak, make it fact.  Everything else is just conjecture, a conspiracy theorist’s dream world.  Also, as studying the Masons is another hobby of mine, and I have found that the Masonic order, particularly in this country, is not particularly secretive about their members, especially those have passed on.  Also in my research, I have seen pictures of many famous Masons, and almost always there is at least one in full Masonic regalia.  I have yet to see a picture of Walt Disney with any of the traditional Masonic symbols.  Not a ring, not a pin, not a picture with anything related to the Masons.  Am I the only one who finds that strange?  Conspiracy theorists notwithstanding, I am now inclined to say that the overwhelming lack of any real evidence would support the idea that Walt Disney was not a Freemason, or Illuminati, or in the CIA mind control programs.

I am fascinated, for lack a better definition, by the individuals who actually believe these things to be true.  The number of people, who can be manipulated by little more than weak correlation, is more a testament to the power of conspiracy theory, than to the powers of the Masons or any other organization that has drawn the attention from the community of the conspiracy theorists.  But, this would be fodder for another blog…

But I am interested in this fascination with the idea that Walt Disney was Mason, and why that association is with the darker views of Freemasonry?

If you have a actual proof (or links to actual proof) that Walt Disney was a Mason, I’d certainly be interested in reviewing it or them.  If you are one of those individuals with a belief in or fascination that Walt was a Mason, I’d be most interested in your stories.  There’s an email address below, or leave comment.  Depending on what I get back, I may do another article.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at